Employers and Insurers Expect Telehealth to Rise in 2018

Good news, as reports suggest that telemedicine use is surging. Health insurance company, Oscar Health, says 32 percent of its members used telehealth services in 2017 compared to 17 percent the prior year. 

According to FierceHealthcare, two-thirds of Oscar Health's member interactions were virtual during 2017 and "most of those interactions were traced back to secure messaging with Oscar’s Concierge team or Care Router. The latter solution is an online or mobile app that allows members seeking care the option of a virtual visit. Oscar providers and Concierge teams can then access that data. 

According to the National Business Group on Health, last year the Large Employers' 2018 Health Care Strategy and Plan Design Survey estimated the cost of healthcare per employee to be $13,482, and project the average will rise to $14,156 this year. The survey expects eemployer will cover nearly 70 percent of those costs, while employees will be responsible for the remaining 30 percent, or about $4,400 this year.

Due to rising costs, the survey points out that employees will likely have more access to non-traditional cost saving methods, such as telemedicine and onsite health centers. Ninety-six percent of all employers say they will make telehealth services available in states where it is allowed, while 56 percent plan to offer behavioral telehealth services. 

"Employers are recognizing that traditional cost control techniques alone aren't able to reduce costs to the point where they are no longer a drain on the bottom line," says Brian Marcotte, president and CEO of the National Business Group on Health. "While employers continue to address costs through health care management and plan design efforts, they are also ramping up efforts to positively affect the supply side of the health care system by pursuing health care payment and delivery reform initiatives."

In an interview with CNBC, Mario Schlosser, CEO of Oscar Health, says the growth in telehealth will help drive down the overall medical cost for chronic illnesses, such as asthma. Schlosser states the cost of a virtual asthma encounter is about $260, versus a price tag of $946 for encounters that do not utilize telemedicine. 

Kaiser Permanent said last year that virtual visits accounted for 52 percent of members’ physician encounters, while Medicare payments for telehealth rose 28 percent in 2016 because of an increase in providers offering remote services. 

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Scott Rupp

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Scott E. Rupp is a writer and an award-winning journalist focused on healthcare technology. He has worked as a public relations executive for a major electronic health record/practice management vendor, and he currently manages his own agency, millerrupp. In addition to writing for a variety of publications, Scott also offers his insights on healthcare technology and its leaders on his site, Electronic Health Reporter.

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